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John Rutter

Christians of all stripes and denominations, almost regardless of their theological differences, have joined in unison to revere the liturgical season of Christmas. In this season, almost every facet of Christian belief can find rich underpinning: the Messiah takes on flesh to dwell among us and takes on the sinful human form in both a symbolic and completely physical manner, and does so through the body of the Virgin Mary by the inspiration and impregnation of the Holy Spirit. John Rutter deliberately embraces these blurred boundaries in one of his many contributions to the contemporary English Christmas carol repertory. He has frequently approached the Christmas Eve story in his music, but infrequently has sought out text and music that blur the theological boundaries between the Marian and Christological foci of the celebration. In his Christmas lullaby, written in 1989 for the 70th birthday of conductor David Willcocks however, Rutter does blur those boundaries.

Rutter himself wrote both the text and music for this Christmas carol, and generally followed the common form of verses with refrain. He also followed the common and traditional practice of blending images from the Christmas Eve story -- holy Family in the manger, angels, wise men -- with more generalized calls for us to worship the holy Child. His text does, however, continually blur the focus between the Child and the "Maiden and mother of Jesus our King"; each choral refrain begins with the particularly Marian reverence, Ave Maria.

From the very first verse, Rutter invokes the angelic presence (sung by the women's voices) as a contrast to the earthly progress of the wise men (sung by the men). The refrain brings all voices together in the Marian acclamation, opening with a rich pedal point and progressing in lush neo-romantic harmonies. The second verse of text rhetorically questions the image of this King in the manger; it switches the order of men and women in their singing, but still climaxes in their unity on Ave Maria. The third and final verse begins in a reverent a cappella, as the text asks us all to lay our treasures before this Child "with hearts full of love." After a woodwind-tinged interlude, the final chorus returns to the Marian-tinged reverence, this final time rejoicing in a richer contrapuntal texture, almost relational in its embodiment of the male and female voices' interaction.